Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Women's Murder Club: Games of Passion

As the review season launches into full gear, I always find myself opting to play the stranger titles for review. There's a lot of reasons for this, I'm more likely to get the game than an AAA title everyone on staff wants, but I also like to push my boundaries as a gamer. We all have our genres that we prefer. I like a good FPS (though I'm taking a break from them), I'll always make time for an RPG, and adventure games are always good for a dose of my childhood. I also don't feel like dealing with a wave of people brainwashed by hype when I tell them a game is just another AAA no-risk game that isn't worth 60 bucks.

The biggest reason though, particularly when dealing with something I know is going to be shovelware, is to play a crappy game. Almost all reviewers and critics that I read suffer from a quality bias. If all you do is play highly polished, sophisticated AAA games or acclaimed indie titles then you're only playing the cream of the crop. This leads to a lot of nitpicking. Complaints that the controls "could be smoother" or "the story is a bit dull" are all a bit grating because these are highly personal, impossible to perfect attributes.

Basic achievements like the game working, having a coherent story, and me not wanting to quit after ten minutes of play are all things that are difficult to put into words. They can only be understood when the critic has played something that induces these emotions and you're often not going to find it in a high-budget game. You might find something that doesn't induce mountains of joy, but it's the basics you still need to praise in those sorts of titles.

Sometimes to be a better critic you need to really familiarize yourself with what a bad game actually looks and plays like.


Robert said...

I'm reminded of something Kael wrote (don't even ask me to remember what). She said that real movie lovers always ended up talking about the bad movies they'd seen, but also usually found one or two things in even the worst movies that they managed to love. Basically, true movie people could find the grace notes in a cinematic travesty.

However, "the controls could be smoother" and "the story is a bit dull" are examples of bad criticism, and not the product of a critical palate that is only exposed to fine dining.

I understand the need for perspective, and sometimes I worry that I might be losing it. I just finished writing a blog entry explaining just why I hate COD 4: Modern Warfare. I think my opinion is entirely justified, but I can't deny that it's also heavily informed by the titans of the shooter genre. Turok was not on my mind as I was writing.

On the other hand, I'm not sure I really agree about the quality bias. The basics you're describing seem like they should be really basic, and given how much time it takes to play a game, I'm don't think I can spare a moment for complete incompetence. What I want is a future where even bad games are better than the shovelware we get now. More Plan 9 from Outer Space and not Coven (if you've watched American Movie).

L.B. Jeffries said...

I think even a claim that there is such a thing as basics in video games can be quickly corrected if you play any of the stranger titles on the Wii or DS rack. With games there is always a risk that something is just not working for you personally as opposed to there being an actual problem. Most AAA games have some degree of testing at least.

Playing through the stuff I'm grinding on just makes me appreciate even the lowest scored games that are at least coherent. A game with a script that's corny is not the same thing as a game with a script that belongs in a movie or TV show. A game that makes me press 3 more buttons than I should have to for a command can only fully be despised after ten hours of play. Look at something like Kane & Lynch, which people complain about incessantly, yet it tries very hard to do numerous things with the game design and story that deserve praise.

I suppose my point ultimately is that while we would all like to think there are basic standards in games, sometimes people need to be reminded of them by seeing a game that doesn't meet them.